Swan Lake Reflections with PBT School Students
PBT School graduate students Ariana Chernyshev and Jacqueline Sugianto recently graced the stages of the Benedum Center in Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra as well as Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse at the PBT School Spring Performance. Ariana and Jackie join us now to reflect on how their training in PBT School prepared them for both performances, what it was like to dance alongside the PBT Company, how it felt to return to live theater and what’s next in their careers as dancers.
What was it like to dance in Susan Jaffe’s newly choreographed Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra?
Ariana: The rehearsal process was as challenging as it was rewarding! Act II is sacrosanct for the corps de ballet, and though much of the choreography remained untouched from Petipa and Ivanov, Ms. Jaffe worked with us on her specifications. The port de bras (or “swan arms”) are full, the arms are elongated, and the footwork is very crisp and precise. I really loved working with my “flock.” Ms. Jaffe has emphasized to us that we were a court of sisters, which was an especially important theme for her choreography in Act IV.
How did your experience dancing in the full production of Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra inform your dancing at the Spring Performance?
Jackie: The main difference between the productions was the scale. While the School’s Spring Performance highlighted Swan Lake, it was mainly focused on the second act of the ballet. I felt more responsibility working with the company because every dancer needed to be very diligent in order to complete all the material in each rehearsal. There was also a considerable amount of acting involved when working on the full-length ballet since the main objective was to immerse the audience in Odette’s tragedy. It was inspiring to learn from the artistic guidance of Ms. Jaffe and dramaturge coach Byam Stevens throughout the process.
Ariana: The ability to bring Ms. Jaffe’s notes from the company’s production into rehearsals for our Spring Performance elevated the quality of our work with the School. The full-length ballet is intentional, each movement layered with purpose. It was a blessing to be able to bring that level of high-quality awareness and artistic depth into our student performances.
After the pandemic, what was the moment where it really hit you that PBT was back in a theater, about to perform for a live audience?
Ariana: The moment it hit me that we were performing for a live audience for The Nutcracker was when the audience began to applaud during the snow scene. It was absolutely exhilarating, and that moment gave me such a rush of excitement and inspiration. Performing Susan Jaffe’s Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra felt very different to me than The Nutcracker because it was a massive production in its premiere. All of the dancers were in a state of high anticipation to share our excitement about these performances with the Pittsburgh audience!
Jackie: I think the moment it really hit me was when I took my mask off backstage before my first Nutcracker show in December 2021. I remember checking my makeup multiple times to make sure the bottom half of my face looked presentable. Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra definitely felt different to me because I took part in more company rehearsals for that production than any other. I also cannot express how excited I was that these shows were accompanied by live performances from the PBT Orchestra.
How do you feel your experience working on Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra has prepared you for the next step in your journey to becoming a professional dancer?
Jackie: Working on Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra was a dream come true. I became familiar with the daily life of a professional dancer. I now understand how company rehearsals are conducted as well as the process of creating a production from square one. I had the opportunity to work with Artistic Director Susan Jaffe and watch all of PBT’s incredible principals and dancers rehearse their roles in the studio. Swan Lake is one of, if not the most important piece of ballet repertoire. These past few months have been a glimpse into the life I am working hard to achieve, and they have only inspired me further.
Ariana: Swan Lake is a staple ballet for a female corps de ballet member and there is a sense of it being a rite of passage. It was demanding both physically and artistically, and because I embraced the challenge, I feel strongly prepared to join the company as an apprentice next season.
How do you feel that you have grown throughout your time at PBT School?
Ariana: PBT School has given me all the tools I needed to achieve my lifelong dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. Pre-Ballet nurtured my simple love for the elegance, beauty and grace of this art form. The Student Division showed me that performing on stage was exactly what I had envisioned it to be and more, through performances in The Nutcracker and the Spring Performance. This stage in my training also required a gradual increase in commitment and I became more serious about the dedication required to be successful in this career. As a part of the Pre-professional program in high school, my technique was further developed and solidified, and I learned how to face the challenges of this profession head-on. Entering the Graduate program, years of effort and perseverance finally cumulated to allow me to explore my artistry and gave me time to figure out where I fit as an individual in the world of ballet. The person I am today is enmeshed within PBT School, and for that I am forever grateful.
Jackie: I feel that I have grown a lot as a dancer throughout this year in the Graduate program. I have had many opportunities to learn repertoire and dance in front of a live audience. I performed in two student choreography showcases, Land of Enchantment, The Nutcracker performances, and now Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra and the Spring Performance. All of these productions have kept me motivated and have improved my confidence. I am also inspired every day by the talented students who I train with, and I am grateful for the positive guidance and support the teachers here at PBT provide. The dedicated and supportive environment have helped me improve not only in my technique but also in my mental fortitude, which are both necessary traits for a professional dancer.